How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

Before my son was born, I didn’t think it was my problem to raise good men. I’d been working with raped and battered women as a women’s rights advocate for many years, and had seen my share of sexist atrocities by men-gone-wrong. My aim was to get justice for women – even though I always understood that the only solution is to prevent the violence in the first place. But until such time as women and men have financial, social, economic and political equality, how could this be possible?

I always imagined that men become assholes because either a) men have the asshole gene and there’s nothing we can do about that or b) they were raised by asshole fathers or weak mothers who themselves had assholes for fathers.

But when my son was born, I became afraid that no matter what we did as his parents, somehow he’d get infected with the virus of sexism ‘out there’ and become one of those men I’d been working all my life to protect women from. I also didn’t want to become one of those domineering mothers who emasculates their sons for loud, aggressive testosterone-driven behaviour. Boys and girls are – despite all the politically correct notions to the contrary – different in ways it is disingenuous to ignore.

Here are some of my thoughts about how we can potentially raise boys who respect girls and women:

1. Surround our kids with good men: boys who have dads (step-dads or other mentors) who are not assholes have a much better chance of not being assholes themselves. So the way a boy sees his father treating his mother, wife and daughters will have the hugest lasting impact on how a boy works this one out.

A while back I was chatting to a woman who confided that her teenage sons make sexist and misogynist comments all the time. She was confounded and deeply upset by this. ‘They just don’t respect me,’ she said miserably.

I made some suggestions about ‘laying down rules’ and ‘invoking consequences for rude behaviour,’ but she shrugged weakly and said, ‘They’ll just laugh at me.’

‘What does your husband say about this? Why doesn’t he step in and let them know that it’s not okay to disrespect women?’ I asked.

‘Where do you think they learn it from?’ she asked helplessly.
Our kids become what we are, not what we say. Lecturing and teaching them doesn’t work. They learn from us by watching what we do.

2. Kids believe what their mothers say: as mothers, our job is to love and respect ourselves and other women. Our kids listen to how we talk about our own bodies and how we speak about other women and girls. Our self-loathing and gendered criticism trickles into our sons (and daughters) and is powerfully undermining of building respect.

3. Sex talk: our kids imbibe sexual attitudes – not only from mainstream culture – but also through the subtleties of how comfortable we are with our own sexuality. If we talk about sex as something natural and mutual; if we discuss what is both interesting and disturbing about pornography, our kids will take those attitudes with them when they’re exposed to it.

4. Make it about ‘people’: sometimes we have to talk about gender differences (like the fact that girls are the ones who fall pregnant, and are likely to be physically weaker than boys when it comes to gender violence), but in many instances, respect is about ‘respecting people,’ irrespective of their gender. If we role model compassion, non-judgement and kindness to everyone, that’s the message that sinks into our kids.

 

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5. Speak up: some stuff is just unacceptable. If we fail to call people on sexist remarks or jokes (whether made by men, women, girls or boys) our kids learn that silence. They learn how to shut up instead of speak up. Watching us, our kids learn what is tolerable and what is not. Sometimes we have to shout ‘NO!’ At other times, we can speak up gently, compassionately and without humiliating the person. Sometimes all that’s needed is a: ‘That remark really made me uncomfortable, perhaps you didn’t intend it, but that was the effect.’ We’re all learning how to make sense of a world of confusing and contradictory gender roles. We all make mistakes. We’re all learning how to be better people.

6. Teach your kids the ‘f’-word: ‘feminists’ are not a cult of rabid anti-men lesbians. Being ‘feminist’ simply means that we’re politicized, that we know we live in a world of social, economic and political inequality. Our boys and girls can learn to say they are proudly ‘feminist’ because they believe men and women should be treated equally (which is not to say that gender differences should be ignored – in certain instances affirmative action might be an important reparative step in achieving that equality).

7. Laugh: there is so much to get angry about in our modern world that we need a sense of humour to survive it all. Laughter is the best way to build resilience. Life is serious, but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. We can laugh at ourselves – with all our mistakes, foibles, imperfections and failures, and in so doing, our kids learn to do the same.

Published on the Happy Parenting blog, 2015

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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In That Place

In That Place

When you find it
Come back and tell us.
What did you see in that starless dark?
What heavens deserted you
and how did you survive
those broken nights
in the jungle
not knowing if you would ever
be found again?
How did you crawl from your bed
In the days beyond
acceptable grief?
Who did you become
after they left you for dead
six of them, you said?
With what did you mend
and stitch yourself whole
and return to love without
ever having received it?
Take your precious beauty back
along those abandoned tracks
when you get there
let your voice rise
shout your name
In that place you are
strong, my friend.
Go this time to name
by what curious grace
you came back once.
You will never get lost there again.

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Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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A Simple Exchange of Niceties

A Simple Exchange of Niceties

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.

– Wallace Stevens

The first available appointment was for next week only. That was in nine days time. Enough time for hands, brains, eyelids and knee joints to form according to the charts. I took a walk. I needed to sit on a bench somewhere under a tree, have a smoke. I know you’re not supposed to smoke when you’re pregnant, but fuck it, I didn’t ask to be, and in nine days time, it was all going to be scraped out of me anyway, which is a lot worse damage than a cigarette was going to do.

There is only one bench I like to sit on in the park. It’s that one just to the left of the big duck pond. It’s got generous slats, not those awkward stingy ones that protrude into your back and don’t let you forget you’re sitting on public property. I once saw seven black swans there, gliding together, it was like a ballet. It sort of made me cry, I don’t know why. Just that perfect connection, unspoken like that. I like benches. They make you feel as if people matter, you know, ordinary people just like you, who haven’t achieved much in life, despite all your teenage dreams of Paris and art school. Benches like that don’t seem to mind that you’ve never reached your potential or managed to finish anything you’ve ever started. They just sit and wait for you, an invitation that’s never revoked: come sit.

I know it’s stupid to be possessive about things that don’t belong to you, but I like to think of that bench as my bench. Put there especially for me, and only for me. You know when you’re a little kid and everyone else runs ahead, and you feel like you’re going to be left behind? When I get to my bench and it’s empty, it’s as if I’ve been waited for. Like an older cousin who stops and holds out a warm friendly hand, not minding being last together with you.

If I arrive at my bench and there’s someone else already there, I just walk on. It’s not that I don’t like sharing. I’d give anyone the shirt off my back, or the food off my plate. That’s part of my problem. My parole officer said people take advantage of that sort of thing. Makes them think you’re easy. I don’t know. I don’t like to see people go hungry or to have to sleep in bus-shelters, which are the unfriendliest of public spaces.

I just like to be consulted first. You know, it’s a respect thing.

And if I’m already sitting there and someone comes and sits down without even a simple exchange of niceties, like, ‘Do you mind?’ ‘May I?’ ‘Do you want to be left alone?’, well, I think that’s just plain rude.

Once when that old lady shuffled up to my bench, I got all panicky. She reminded me of my Nan who’s been dead for more than ten years, but who had a soft spot for me, always pressed some cash into my hand, and whispered ‘go buy yourself something nice.’

The old lady smiled and sat down beside me, and fiddled with her plastic bag, which had gotten stuck, on her wrist, twisted around and around. It took her a good few minutes to work out which way it was twisted and how to untwist it and remove it. I tried not to care what it was she had in her plastic bag, but I couldn’t help seeing she had a pair of shoes in them. A pair of bright red little girls’ shoes.

And that was it. She snatched my peace from me.

‘It’s a cloudy day,’ she said. I didn’t know whether she was directing it at me, or just like, at the water.

I nodded. When I’m sitting on my bench, I’m generally not in the mood for a small-talk and chit-chat.

I got up soon after that and left her there, with her little red shoes in her plastic bag.

Today of all days, I needed to be alone on my bench. I rounded the corner and saw the bench – unoccupied!

I quickened my pace, though there was no-one else in sight, just to claim it. I lay down on it, taking up the entire bench with my body. I reached into my pocket and took out a cigarette. ‘Smoking may be dangerous in pregnancy.’ I laughed out loud, it was a fucking cigarette that got me into this mess in the first place.

When Damien had approached me at the pool table, and leaned in against me, he said, ‘Got a cigarette on that cute bod of yours?’

Not a great opening line, but I liked the confidence and he cut a fine figure in a pair of Levi’s.

He fucked me from every direction and on every surface in my apartment. I still have bruises in places I can’t see without contorting myself into a Yogic position from which I couldn’t disentangle myself without professional help.

We hadn’t spoken much, so I couldn’t have known he didn’t want kids. Not with a trashy whore like me – his words. As if a kid was on my agenda. I guess I never thought before how those two pink lines kind of make an equal sign to the end of a relationship. ‘Better to know someone thinks you’re a trashy whore sooner rather than later,’ Barbie said. She’s my best friend and I swear the greatest hairdresser which is why I always look good even on a waitress’s salary. She gets me right. I heard her. Better to know. Even if you had feelings for that person. Those feelings get the message not to hang around like a spare wheel, not after trashy and whore have been hurled at you like a double fist in the guts. When just two nights before, he held his strong hands behind your hair and licked you from your throat to your bellybutton in a way that made you think, you know, that maybe he loved you.

‘Do you mind?’

I looked up.

Did it look like I didn’t mind? I was lying down, relaxing on my bench, one hand on my belly, the other holding my cigarette, and she asks me, ‘Do I mind…’ Clue-less, as Barbie would say rolling her eyes.

I swung my legs down and sat up. It made me a bit dizzy.

‘You shouldn’t smoke,’ she said, sitting down.

‘Well thanks for your concern,’ I said. ‘Not like it’s any of your business…’

‘You’re right, it’s none of my business,’ she said. She opened her bag and took out a bottle of mineral water and took a big glug out of it. What is it with people and bottled water? Like there’s something trashy about tap-water.

She was married, or at least she wore what looked like a wedding band on her finger.

She took a book out of her bag and rested it on her knees while she looked out at the lake. ‘When fertility fails’ it was called.

She flicked it open and started to read. She seemed to be very concerned with its contents.

She caught me looking at the title.

‘We’ve just been told we can’t have kids,’ she said to me.

I shrugged. ‘It’s none of my business,’ I said.

‘Right,’ she said.

I sat there next to her inhaling my cigarette. She read eight full pages, actually sixteen, she turned the page eight times. Hell, she could read fast.

I thought maybe I felt something move inside me, but that couldn’t be the case. I was only eight weeks pregnant. They only start to move around 18 or 19 weeks, that’s what that book I paged through at the clinic this morning said. Not that I was interested or anything. It’s just that they make you read these things before you can consent to a termination.

As we sat there, a duck swam past.

‘I don’t want to be an old duck, swimming all on my own…’ she said.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

‘There are worse things than being on your own…’ I said.

‘Like what?’ she asked.

‘Like being with someone who doesn’t love you…’

‘Children always love their parents…’ she said.

‘No they don’t,’ I said.

‘Yes, they do…’

‘They don’t. Believe me. And parents don’t always love their kids….’

‘Yes they do,’ she said.

‘You haven’t met my mother,’ I said flicking off ash which had dropped on my shirt.

‘How can your mother not love you,’ she said. ‘You’re her daughter…’

‘I think she would have exchanged me for a week’s holiday at a three star resort… not that anyone was offering… but if they had….’

‘You’re wrong,’ she said shaking her head.

‘Have it your way,’ I said. I swear people who drink mineral water obviously know something I don’t.

And then, and I didn’t see this coming, or else I would have gotten up and left the bench much sooner, she started to cry.

‘Please don’t cry…’ I said.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I just wanted children so much….’

‘What for? Kids are bad news, they’re a lot of trouble.’

She shook her head, ‘They give meaning to your life…. ‘

‘Think of how much money you’ll save…’

‘We’ve spent our entire life savings on four IVF treatments…’ she kind of snickered. ‘And, you know what, I’d sell every single thing I own, just to be a mother…everything, every heirloom, diamond ring, Persian carpet… all of it… it’s all worthless…’

I thought about what I could do if I owned diamond rings and Persian carpets. Paris here I come….

She seemed pretty sincere about it.

‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ I found myself saying, which really wasn’t me speaking. It was like my Nan just popped out of my mouth.

‘Yes…you’re right,’ she said turning to look at me. ‘It wasn’t meant to be…’ The tears carried on streaming down her face. She closed her book and put it in her bag.

‘I guess I have to get back to work,’ she said. ‘Thank you for listening… I’m so sorry to burden you with my problems,’ she laughed. ‘You must think I’m crazy…’

I shrugged. ‘Hell, sister, I’ve got no certificate in sanity, not so far as I know…’

She got up.

‘Do you come here often?’ she asked.

I didn’t know what to say. I did come there often. But not to talk to strangers.

‘Maybe I’ll see you again…’ she said. ‘ This is my favourite bench in the park.. I always think it’s been put here specially for me, isn’t that silly?’

Look, I’ve never done anything with my life. The shoplifting thing just kind of happened, which led to the three months inside.

Bit of an eye-opener. My mother wouldn’t even put up the $500 bail for me. I guess I understand her point. I’m bad news. I hang around in pubs after work. I’m not going to amount to anything. It’s not like I’m going to find a decent bloke and get married. Barbie says I’m like Ruby Tuesday in that Rolling Stones’ Song. I can’t be chained – unless it’s for sexual purposes, now and then, if you know what I mean.

So I had this thought that it might be a nice gesture. She seemed so bloody keen on kids. So since I’m already pregnant and all that, maybe I’ll just have it, and give it to her. She’d be really appreciative, I can tell. And that way, I can get to go and visit the kid now and then without the hassle of having to bring it up myself. It was the first time I ever thought about co-incidence and fate and all that stuff, you know, where pieces all just fit together.

The next time I came to my bench, I had just come from the ‘half-way’ scan. ‘It’s a little girl,’ the doctor said, which I already knew. She liked the same kind of music as me, really got frenetic when I turned up James Blunt on those little headphones I attached to my stomach. At least she’d have good taste in music.

As I looked at the shadows on that fuzzy screen, I didn’t feel like such a trashy whore anymore.

Though I waited at my bench for an hour, the lady with the book on fertility didn’t come. I wondered what she might call her little girl.

‘Summer,’ I said out loud. ‘That’s a good name for a little girl…’ I thought I might suggest that to her when I handed the baby over. Kind of like a ‘use it, don’t use it, but that’s what I think…’

The time after that, I really needed to sit down and it was a huge relief to put my feet up and feel the sun warming them. I was retaining water in my legs and it was getting harder to fill my shifts at the restaurant without my back hurting. Also it was getting hotter and my belly was as smooth and ripe as watermelon.

Even Barbie revised her opinion about pregnancy being ‘grotesque,’ and I didn’t feel fat, the way I thought I’d feel. And when I told my mother I was pregnant, I guess I didn’t foresee that she’d start crying on the phone. Like from happiness.

‘I’m not keeping it, Ma,’ I told her.

‘Don’t you DARE give my grand-daughter away,’ she said.

I never thought of it like that. It gave me a lump in my throat to think that my mother thought there was anything about me worth keeping.

She went and knitted a pink cardigan with rose-buds on it. I kept it. To give to the lady along with the baby, and the name suggestion, when the time came to hand her over.

And my mother started sending money in the post each month.

I was never tempted, not even once to spend it on myself.

By the time Summer came, it wasn’t so much that I’d changed my mind. But since she was ‘distressed,’ and nearly choked on her umbilical chord that was wrapped around her little neck, and given that my mother was at my side, holding my hand, and crying, I thought I’d just make sure she was alright for a while. When she fell asleep on my chest with her little hand curled under my chin, mum said to me, ‘I remember you lying on my chest like that too and wishing it would never end.’

That’s how come I ended up with her lying on the hospital bed with me, with my head in her lap, while she stroked my hair, whispering ‘beautiful girl’ which was either meant for the baby or for me but it didn’t matter.

I did go back to the bench, with Summer, to look for that lady with the book and the mineral water and the Persian rugs and heirlooms.

I guess if she’d been there, I might have had my one and only chance to give her the baby, and who knows, maybe I would have.

But my bench was empty.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Surviving Teenagers

I call my kids to come see this YouTube video of some father in the US who ends his rant against his teenage daughter’s ‘I-hate-my-parents’ Facebook post, by emptying the barrel of a gun into her laptop.

I suppose I’m hoping it’ll dawn on them I’m not such a terrible parent for insisting electronics be shut down at 9pm and they each do one chore a week. Instead they look at each other and roll their eyes. ‘Just proves what a d___head of a father he is,’ my son says in disgust. ‘Tragic,’ my daughter sighs and saunters off to continue the intricate artwork of stitches, hearts, and diamonds she’s been drawing on her left arm with a Sharpie over the past week. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a permanent tattoo.

Now that they’re teenagers, the exhausting years of claustrophobic motherhood have been replaced with this: me left feeling a bit silly. It’s not like I want to be worshipped or anything. Just respected. I’d even settle for not being dissed. Problem is, I’m not impressive anymore. They used to ask me things and take my word for gospel. Nowadays they know more than I do about too many things. I need their help me with i-Tunes, my iPhone and Foxtel. They snicker, as if I’m some nerd who’s been under a rock and only just emerged into the daylight of popular culture.

At fifteen, my daughter is my height. My husband refuses to fold the laundry anymore after he recently held up a pair of undies and asked, ‘Yours or hers?’ and then, ‘I can’t do this anymore. The boundaries are getting too blurred.’ The other day when a TV ban was issued for rude behaviour, which got doubled for answering back, she icily left us with a, ‘We’re not Nazis, you know.’

‘Don’t come in, I’m filming,’ the twelve-year-old calls down the passage, like he’s Spielberg or something. I have no idea what’s actually going on in his room, except that later there’ll be YouTube downloads of his ‘gameplay,‘ which he then insists I watch – it gives him ‘views,’ which is currently how he measures his self-worth. We nearly came to blows over Call of Duty which I refused to allow in my home (because I’m the boss), even though I was ruining his social life in the process. I held out, through the crippling pressure. Now he’s mining and dodging zombies. For all I know, Minecraft is frying his brain, not creating new neural pathways. And he’s got friends in his room 24/7 on Skype. I miss the good old play date where kids went home eventually.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

Parenting teenagers has come upon me suddenly. One day we were in parks, eating ice creams and playing on the slippery dip, and the next my daughter was telling me to ‘give her a break, she has PMS,’ and my son, remarking that ‘roll-on works better, but aerosol is more manly.’

Time Out and Naughty Corners are obsolete and ridiculous. ‘Eat your broccoli,’ is usually met with a, ‘You eat my broccoli,’ or ‘I’ve decided to give up green vegetables.’ When I insist, my daughter quotes the Convention on the Rights of the Child where she claims her right to eat what she wants has been recognized by the UN. I’m usually too tired to argue and since no-one’s scared of me anymore, raising my voice just makes me look like I’m the one having the tantrum. I’ve had to update my parenting techniques, like a Facebook status. My kids are changing, nightly, by the glow of their computer screens, the click of a mouse, the tweet in the night, and I have to keep up if I want to stay in the game. There’s a Buddhist lesson about impermanence in there somewhere.

My daughter used to love it when people said she looked like me. Now she scowls as if she’s been told she resembles Barney the Dinosaur. When my son sinks a three-pointer, my whoops just embarrass him. ‘Be cool, mum,’ he grimaces. ‘It’s just a basketball game.’

It’s my dignity I miss.

As I search for new meaning in my role as their mum, their need for independence stretches me to breaking point. I have to trust them in the world and the world with them or else cripple them with my neurosis. They may be growing up, but I’m having to toughen up, to withstand the shame of having to ask someone a quarter of my age what LMFAO means, or what a meme is. And when they say, You remember that thing Kanye West did to Taylor Swift…?’ I just nod. Their snappy cool comebacks make me say puerile things like ‘I carried you for nine months of my life, is it such a big deal to carry two shopping bags to the kitchen?’

They’re preparing me. With closed doors, private conversations and peer-secrets, they’re letting me go. They’re shrugging me off like old skin. Right now I’ll settle for a role in their support team, and not to be de-friended by them on Facebook. But I’m slowly expanding my own horizons, and dreaming up that life they keep telling me to get. Who knew of the secret deal between us – that as they grow into themselves, they give me back to myself where I get to watch from the sidelines as they unfurl into funny, opinionated interesting people I like?

 

TIPS

  • Never take a grunt, a death-stare or a ‘whatever’ personally. That’s hormone-tone. Rudeness is not acceptable. Knowing the difference– now there’s the trick.
  • Never be too tired, too busy or too lazy to ‘come see’ whatever it is they want to show you – even if it is another YouTube crazy cat thing or an unfunny over-your-head SMOSH video. Just be grateful you’re still show-worthy.
    Knock if their door is closed.
  • It’s okay to lie in response to questions about what age you were when you first had a cigarette, drank alcohol or had sex, as in ‘I’ve never smoked/drank or had sex.’
Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Without Self-Compassion, Why Should Anyone Trust Us?

Celebrity drag queen Ru Paul sings, ‘If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’ Amen to this when it comes to the act of writing. All writing begins with self-compassion. To write, we have to own our voice and our right to write. I...

Are You Using Protection?

In my early twenties, I went on a self-defence course, where I learned how to puncture someone’s Adam’s apple with a key and to perfect the knee-to-groin move should such unfriendly gestures be called for. I swallowed little pills and purchased boxes of prophylactics...

I Have Not Said Enough

I work as a journalist in South Africa, a country known as the rape capital of the world. Every afternoon I switch on my computer, make sure my WiFi is working, and begin to trawl the web for news stories about criminal cases that have reached the courts. It is...

Who Are You to Write? (On Stroke Correction and Conviction)

These are excerpts from my diary in 2001, four years before my first novel The Dreamcloth was published. Some years ago, I decided it was time to learn how to swim properly. I mean, I'd had swimming lessons as a kid, but stopped as soon as there was no danger I'd...

Books That Made a Difference in My Life

When I was in my early teens, my father introduced me to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, a play for voices. I became enchanted with language.

On Returning to the Home I Grew Up In

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there. ―Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon I sit and watch the sun come up over Johannesburg...

8 Reasons to Write

8 Reasons to Write

If you’ve been putting off writing, this one is for you.

We spend a lot of time fending off the ‘it’s-narcissistic’ saboteur, the ‘I-suck-at-grammar’ bogeyman and the ‘who-will-give-a-damn?’ golem. But seriously folks, as the Buddha said, ‘the problem is, you think you have time.’

Here are 8 of the best reasons I can think of for you to write:

1. Writing helps us claim a conscious identity.

When we write our story, we confirm I BELONG (to my history, to my family, to my past, to my memories). For those of us who feel lost, writing our story grounds us in a firm sense of selfhood.

2. Writing our stories is empowering.

To tell a story, we must believe that we have a right to tell it. For those of us who feel powerless, writing our stories helps us claim our voice.

3. Through writing, we begin to make meaning of our lives.

Many of us are walking around in a fog of past chaos — events we never fully understood or processed. When we write a story, we create an ordered pattern out of those events, and so structure meaning. Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, founded logotherapy, which teaches that meaning is not inherent in an experience, but is an act of creativity on our part, in each moment of our lives.

4. Once we’ve formulated an understanding of what things “mean” to us, we can share it with others.

Though we might write for ourselves, a story implies that there is a teller and a listener — it is created for the purposes of SHARING MEANING. Stories help us connect with others and create relationships. For those of us who feel alone, our stories act as bridges to others and build community.

 

The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

5. Writing our story can be cathartic and healing.

One of the questions Native Americans ask sick people is, “When last did you tell your story?” Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona (a wonderful physician and author of Narrative Medicine) uses storytelling to help people heal from disease and mental illness. He asks them to tell the story of their illness and to claim a different narrative: “Change the story and the illness may change.” The incredible Maxine Hong Kingston helps Vietnam veterans write their stories, which in turn helps them heal from the trauma. Stories work in mysterious ways on the brain and engage the mind, heart and spirit in a mystical conversation that can bring peace to wounded places.

6. Writing our stories is a form of active listening to our own hearts and bearing witness to ourselves.

For those of us who have never been listened to, or had anyone bear witness to our suffering, writing our story can be a beautiful experience of self-acknowledgment.

7. Writing our story is a way of holding onto memories — not just “facts,” but emotional experiences.

Stories efficiently cluster information together in a way that our consciousness is able to access larger chunks, so we’re able to more easily recall details and store our memories.

8. Writing our story is an act of profound intimacy and curiosity with our own consciousness.

We cannot help but grow and transform through this slow, patient, probing engagement with our inner worlds.

Why don’t you make this year that you finally muffle everything that’s stopping you and just do it?

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

Vision Quest

When I was two, I almost went blind in my right eye. A close friend of my mother`s had noticed that my left eye was not tracking properly. It was turning out so that it appeared misaligned, and so a trip to the eye doctor`s was quickly arranged. I was examined and...

Getting Lost in Our Own Bullsh*t – the Excuses We Use to Not Write

Honestly I’ve heard them all. Hell, I’ve used them all. I’ve had ten books published, have six or seven partially-written manuscripts saved in three different computers and dozens of journals, have mentored hundreds of writers, and even published a few through Joanne...

What Is Worth Being Famous For?

I always wanted to be famous. I once imagined if Ellen DeGeneres just had the chance to meet me, we’d become best friends. And that if Annie Leibovitz got a glimpse of my profile, she’d beg to photograph this nose. And that if Jamie ever got my lamb shank recipe out...

Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

Happy International Women's Day. I hope you're going to make some time for yourself today - to listen in to your heart, and to reconnect with the life inside you that is only yours. Maybe do something kind for your body. Give it a compliment. A massage. A dunk in the...

How to Love Time with Every Passing Birthday

We’re all just walking each other home. – Ram Dass   It's funny how much we fret about nonsense in the light of Ram Dass's insight, isn't it? How different would we behave if we lived each day with that as our premise? So when the 31st August comes around, I...

The Mystery of Inspiration in Writing

When he delivered his Nobel Lecture in 2005, entitled Art, Truth and Politics, the playwright Harold Pinter said the following: ‘I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened....